Screens: HBO

When Did Tales Of The Grim Sleeper Awaken Us To Its Charms?

Nick Broomfield's L.A. serial-murder doc is in fact grim -- but accidental producer Pamela Brooks is the poo, so take a big whiff.

Worthwhile Show Attempted

Tales Of The Grim Sleeper

Topic

Lonnie Franklin, aka "the Grim Sleeper," wreaked havoc among a so-called marginal population for nearly three decades. (Allegedly. Arrested in 2010, he's currently charged with only ten of the nearly 200 murders he's thought to have committed, and is still awaiting trial as of filming.) A serial killer who selected most of his victims from the crack-addicted and/or prostitute population in his South Los Angeles neighborhood, Franklin took (and shared) disturbing photographs of his victims; some women escaped with tales of elaborate, but also clumsy, torture at the hands of a man most considered a good guy, while local activists struggled to get LAPD to give a shit.

How Far I Expected To Get

The end. It's a crime docu, after all. Kurt & Courtney turned a lot of people off filmmaker Nick Broomfield permanently, but he's got a way with the narrative build, and his building himself into his films is informative, versus obtrusive. Just my opinion, but in the genre, his work on Aileen Wuornos is the standard even if you don't care for his stuff.

Then Pamela Brooks happened.

2015-04-28-gs-pamela

Pamela Brooks is a one-hundred-percent full-salt no-shit bad-ass who used to be "out there ho-in'" with many of the faces from Franklin's horrible photo collection. She's Broomfield and Co.'s entree into interviewing many of Franklin's friends and neighbors as well as ladies who escaped from his clutches, or knew ladies who didn't -- because, as she tells Broomfield, "they think you the fuckin' FBI." She introduces Broomfield and the crew as "her friends from England," has no fear about rolling down her window to talk to working girls while they're working (and to growl darkly at motorists honking behind Broomfield's car, "Just drive around, trick, fuck you"), and has no use for pimps: "Put your skirt on, come out here." She curses more than I do. She is great.

When It Won Me Over

35:56 (of 105 minutes)

What Did It

...Pamela Brooks. On the cops: "We don't mean nothin' to them. We're black. What the fuck!" On what would make the cops pay closer attention to these murders: "Now if I was a celebrity, or a white woman?" On a working girl wearing not one thing below the waist as she's standing on her corner: "She ain't got no draws on! ...That's fucked up." Hee! Four years sober, Pamela "ain't scared of nothin' but God" because she's seen and done everything. She's the Phyllis Montana LeBlanc of Grim Sleeper: formidable, flavorful, and fucking over it. Broomfield knows she's Queen Shit of Film Mountain, too; he says as much in a VO, and she gets a coordinating producer credit at the end, because duh.

She's not the only effective thing about Grim Sleeper. Broomfield's mode of questioning is very good at getting Franklin's defenders to come around, on their own, to realizing the guy was a big-time twist -- one remembering Franklin had the same caliber gun used in many of the murders; another, Franklin's son's ex-girlfriend, that Franklin would listen at the door when she and Jr. were having sex. Having tracked down a number of Franklin escapees with Pamela's help, he unspools their stories, which they've never told before, because nobody asked, because nobody cared. They're living homeless now, a lot of them, broken down and tired; they don't have a ton of affect when they recall, say, how Franklin raped them with bottles of Olde English. One woman reports procuring for Franklin, "and I never saw them again after that," with a bleak matter-of-factness. Another does break down: "I didn't deserve it."

It's enraging, LAPD's casual approach to the murders (followed, of course, by a press conference taking all the credit for solving it...at which a community liaison who had been leafletting about the case for literally four presidents takes the mic from the mayor all, "Yeah: nope," which is amazing). Margaret Prescod, the mic-roller, notes early on that only in a "black or brown" neighborhood would the community never have heard of the murders in the first place. Nobody wrote about it. The police didn't release a 911 call that could have helped with a voice ID. They grabbed up Franklin almost by mistake, backing into the "triumphant" arrest when they ran his son's DNA.

But it's also heartening, because Pamela Brooks exists.

Worth Taking A Run At It?

Totally. And if you didn't get my Phyllis Montana ref above, that means you didn't watch, or forgot the people in, Spike Lee's masterpiece about Katrina, so get on that pronto as well.

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